Nathan Chen leads after record-setting short program at U.S. championships

By Helene Elliott

Nathan Chen staked a strong claim on his sixth consecutive U.S. men's figure skating title and his second Olympic berth by performing an accomplished and assured short program Saturday that put him in the lead halfway through the U.S. figure skating championships.

Chen, who trains at Great Park Ice in Irvine, Calif., got a personal-best 115.39 points for his skate to Charles Aznavour's version of "La Boheme," a program Chen felt strongly enough about to bring back from the 2019-20 season. His score of 66.93 for the elements he executed was the highest in the competition and he earned it by cleanly landing a quadruple flip jump and a quadruple lutz-triple toe loop combination. He also received maximum levels on his spins. "This is something that I felt close to and really attached to," he said about the program during a TV interview.

Chen finished fifth at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, moving up from 17th after a poor short program.

Vincent Zhou was second with 112.78 points. He also did two quadruple jumps, one in combination with a triple jump.

The biggest surprise was 17-year-old Ilia Malinin of Fairfax, Va., who ranked third with 103.46 points on the strength of flawlessly performing two challenging quadruple jumps. Malinin opened with a quadruple lutz — the most difficult quad to land — and later did a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination. He earned 62.06 points for the execution of the elements in his program and 41.40 points for the components of his program.

Jason Brown ranked fourth with 100.84 points, including a competition-best 47.96 points for his program components (skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation).

Brown doesn't have a quadruple jump in his repertoire and didn't attempt a quad in his revived program to "Sinnerman," banking instead on his artistry and his superb technique to lift his score. He got 51.69 points for his elements and 49.15 for the program components. Long a fan favorite, he was given a standing ovation at Bridgestone Arena. "I just wanted to bring a big smile to the people, on their faces, and that was really the main goal of today," he said.

Brown skated after Malinin and was aware of Malinin's exceptional score. But he had no intention of changing his strategy. "For me, it's about what you can do in the moment," Brown said. "I can only win at my own game."

Brown and his coach, Tracy Wilson, experienced many travel delays in making their way to Nashville from their Toronto training base, and Brown didn't practice on the competition rink until Friday night. But he showed no ill effects from his long trip and was his usual expressive and impressive self. "We've got to be open and game for whatever comes our way," he said.

The men's event will end on Sunday, with the free skate. The three men's singles skaters chosen for the Beijing team will be announced Sunday afternoon.


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